Dalit tokenism: Can Karunanidhi walk the talk on reservations in private sector?

Many have begun questioning what sort of precedent the DMK has set back home
Dalit tokenism: Can Karunanidhi walk the talk on reservations in private sector?
Dalit tokenism: Can Karunanidhi walk the talk on reservations in private sector?

When DMK chief M. Karunanidhi urged the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre to implement a reservation policy for Dalits in the private sector, he earned both bouquets and brickbats.  Stating that his party had included the Dalit reservation issue in its 2014 Lok Sabha election manifesto, the former Chief Minister said the DMK had adopted resolutions in this regard in the past as well.

“It’s true that they did. In UPA I, they called for the common minimum guarantee scheme be implemented for reservation in SC and ST categories. UPA 2 however, lost the plot,” says D Ravikumar, general secretary of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK). Ravikumar welcomed the statement which he believed came from a good place. “The NDA seems to be interested again, it’s a good time.” 

But political analyst Lakshmanan isn’t too happy. “It’s mere tokenism. Over the last few years and even in Karunanidhi’s tenure educational institutions have reported low numbers in reservation for SC/ST communities as per an All India Educational survey in 2015. If he couldn’t even implement it in an education policy, how can he with jobs?” he says. 

But one thing’s in common – many have begun questioning what sort of precedent the DMK has set back home.

“If he’s calling for reservation for Dalits in the private sector, what about the companies that his own party members run? The Sun Network, Spicejet – shouldn’t they have considered implementing this policy there?” asks Lakshmanan. Ravikumar calls out the DMK on similar lines. “It’s all well to make this statement, but if you preach, you should also practice,” he says. 

Rubbishing the logic of tokenism and setting precedents, DMK spokesperson Saravanan clarifies, “He is not a stakeholder in any of these companies. He only owns the house he lives in in Gopalapuram. We weren’t in power for the last 10 years, and the state government can do very little,” he says.

Adding that the DMK was instrumental in uplifting those from the Arunthathiyar community, and enacting a law to ensure that people from any caste can be pujaris, Saravanan assured that the DMK was committed to these demands and called for a more constructive approach. 

"DMK President's call for extending reservations to private sector is backed by recent recommendations by National Commission for Backward Classes. As long as menace of caste remains, battle cries for reservation will continue to emanate from the DMK and its Dravidian affiliates," says DMK spokesperson Manu Sundaram

But how far has affirmative action worked in Indian private sector?

During DMK’s tenure 10 years ago, many companies across the private sector lauded the common minimum guarantee and appointed a committee to look into reservation for SC/ST communities in the private sector. But beyond tokenistic pledging of support for affirmative action, no company has come forward per se and this is primarily in the hands of the Centre.

India’s anti-discrimination laws, however, are limited. They include the Equal Remuneration Act which mandates equal pay for equal work for women, and the three laws that protect the rights of workers with disabilities, the Civil Rights Act of 1955 which makes untouchability a punishable offence, and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989.

Affirmative action in jobs ensure better representation of the social composition in the country’s public institutions. While the private sector is the self-proclaimed driver of India’s economy, it is not obligated to contribute similarly, and sees no need for it either.
The government of India did make an attempt to address this in a limited way by drafting the Equal Opportunities Commission Bill. The last we heard of this was in February this year where the DMK urged the government to bring legislation to provide reservation of 27% for other backward classes and SC/STs in the private sector and in multinational institutions. Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan on Monday made a pitch for reservation for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and backward communities in private sector jobs.  But the jury’s out - affirmative action in the private sphere is a long, long, way off. Political parties could do their best by implementing reservations in members who are stakeholders in companies. 



Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute